Two weeks ago, Adam Walker was one of four Ft. Myers Miracle players named to the Florida State League All-Star team. It proved to be quite the weekend performance by the powerful prospect. First, Walker put on a tremendous show for the crowd with a incredible performance in the home run derby. He followed that up by going 3-4 with a double and a home run in the All-Star Game itself. He was named the MVP.
While Walker may be an imperfect prospect, he has some traits that make him one of the most intriguing prospects in the Minnesota Twins minor league system.
However, let's start with the All-Star performance. It meant a lot to Walker to be named an All-Star, and he enjoyed the weekend. "It was definitely an honor to be selected as an All-Star this year. I had a little bit of a rough start, so to be able to come back and still be selected was a great feeling me. Its nice to know others liked the way I played the game. Its definitely an awesome feeling." He continued, "It's a great experience to be able to play in the game. You are out there with the best players in the league. You get to know other players and make friends while you're there. After the game, being selected as the MVP is just another honor to me. I was able to get a couple hits and played right field. The whole weekend was a great time."
As impressive as his performance was in the All-Star Game, he made a name for himself with his performance in the Home Run Derby. It was another experience he truly enjoyed. "For me being able to be in the home run derby was awesome. Its always fun when you get to step into the box and go hit some home runs. I love winning. So going into it, I wanted to win, of course, but I wanted to have some fun and enjoy the experience. When I was able to come out on top at the end, I was pretty pumped up. Having all my teammates and the fans cheering for me and supporting me was a great feeling."
A couple of his Miracle teammates were on hand to watch Walker's power display.
LHP David Hurlbut earned an All-Star Game berth. He was 3-3 with a 2.05 ERA in the season's first half. He said of the evening, "Adam's performance at the Home Run Derby was like a crescendo of power. He effortlessly hit home run after home run in the beginning, but as time ran down, he really started to show his power. The crowd reacted with gasps, increasing in volume with each swing. His last few home runs were the most impressive. One ball went over the net that stood 20 feet beyond the left field wall, another on top of the overhang for the stands in left, and finally on top of the batter's eye in center field. At the end, the entire team jokingly bowed and yelled 'We aren't worthy!' It was an impressive performance."
Brett Lee, a left-handed starter with the Miracle, was also an All-Star. Before the All -Star game, he was 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA. He was also in awe of Walker's power. He said, "It was definitely something I've never seen before! Someone with that much power to hit the ball like that isn't human! I already knew what to expect playing on his team the past few years, and he started off hitting the ball hard! But when the guy said he had 15 seconds left, Walker unleashed everything! I've never seen someone swing that hard! The last five balls he hit were absolute blasts! The last ball he hit disappeared in the sky! What made it even better was that the people in the stadium were going crazy! He put on a light show for everyone!"
Moving to the Florida State League has certainly been challenging for Adam Walker. On the season, he is hitting .241/.293/.434 (.727). However, his 18 homers are six more than anyone else in the league, and his 64 RBI are seven more than anyone in the league.
Walker has noticed some of the differences in pitching between the Midwest League and the Florida State League. "I think the difference in the pitchers you see from the Midwest League to this league is not a huge. It's not like every pitcher is throwing a lot harder, but I think they are more consistent at throwing more pitches for strikes. I have noticed the pitchers are doing a better job of attacking the strike zone but can do it with their secondary pitches. There aren't many times when I get the generic game plan of: throw a first pitch fastball for a strike and go to your off- speed with two strikes. They have pitched backwards more and usually use the fastball as a show pitch to set up another pitch. I just need to make sure when I do get pitches to hit I don't miss them."
Therein lies the area of Walker's game that needs improvement: contact. In 346 plate appearances, he has struck out 95 times (27%). His walk rate this year is right around 7% after finishing at 5.6% a year ago. Twins Director of Minor League Operations, Brad Steil, talked briefly about the contact concerns. "We understand there is a trade-off between power and strikeouts, so Iím not sure concern is the right terminology. While weíre looking for improvement in those areas, a key for him is being aggressive to the fastball. As he gains more experience, we expect that the selectivity and discipline will improve."
Walker is not a guy who looks at his stats much. Coming into the season, he didn't formalize any numerical goals for himself, but he did have several things he wanted to accomplish this season. He said, "I didn't make any goals about my stats being at a certain spot. I try not to worry about my stats, but I just wanted to make sure I was improving my game. I wanted to become a better outfielder and to become a better hitter. I know I have power but I wanted to work on becoming a better overall hitter. That is something I have been working on with the coaches. Making sure I am swinging at good pitches and having more consistent quality at-bats. If I start doing that more, the power numbers will be there."
Regarding Walker's defense, Steil said that he's improving, but still has room to grow. "I think itís still a work in progress. Heís definitely a good athlete for his size, and itís something he works at, but itís also not something that comes easy for him."
One thing that Walker has been able to do is come up with huge, clutch hits. In Elizabethton, his three-run homer in the 9th inning of the Appy League Championship final game sent it to extra innings (where Dalton Hicks' grand slam won it). Last year, Hicks led minor league baseball with 110 RBI. Walker had 109. This year, he again has performed incredibly well in clutch situations. With runners in scoring position, he has hit .276/.336/.581 (.917) with ten home runs. He has added three grand slams already this year. According to Walker, he just really enjoys being the guy who comes to the plate in this types of situations.
"I love hitting with runners in scoring position because I know if I can score them it's going to help the team win. I try to make sure when I have free RBIs with runners on third with less than two outs, I put the ball in play and score the run. That is the easiest way to help your RBI total. We have done a good job of scoring runs this year and that shows our offense is doing well. You can't get RBIs if your teammates aren't getting on base in front of you. I love winning so I really take pride when I have opportunities to change the game. I've always wanted to be the guy that is up with the game on the line. I don't see many kids grow up dreaming of getting a base hit when your team is down by ten. Usually you always picture bases loaded, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and you want to be that kid that gets the big hit to win the game. I love to have that feeling because when you can get those hits to score runs you are helping the team win and winning as always fun."
According to Steil, "Some hitters have the ability to stay with their approach in RBI situations, whereas other guys might get anxious or over-aggressive and chase more. So itís probably a combination of his mentality and the reality that pitchers donít have as much leeway to pitch around him in those situations."
Walker went to Milwaukee Lutheran High School before heading to Jacksonville University for three yeas of college ball. The Twins used their third round pick in the 2012 draft on him. He has strong family support and a strong faith that has helped him get to this point in his career.
"I've grown up with a Christian background and as I've grown up, having that faith in Jesus Christ has helped me handle certain situations I've been through. I try to live a certain way and be a good person to show I'm a Christian through my actions. I am definitely not perfect but that relationship with God is important to me. My family is also very important to me. They all have been there for my whole life and made many sacrifices for me to be where I am now, and I am very grateful and blessed to have such a great family. I've been very lucky to have a family that can come watch me play a few times a year. I know there are other players that may never have their family there to watch them play. So I do appreciate my family for being so supportive of me and always believing in me. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for them. I love my family."
So, what are his goals for the rest of the season? Walker said, "I think my goals for the second half are the same as the first half. I think I did a good job and have seen improvement defensively and offensively. I know there is still room for improvement so I just need to keep working on those parts of my game, and I think things will work out for me."
Walker will not turn 23 until October. As you would expect from any player in the Florida State League, there are certainly areas where he needs to improve. However, Walker has all the tools to be an impact player in the big leagues. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he's got the size and strength to be a great power hitter. He has some sneaky speed. He has a great attitude and strong makeup. Fans will need to show some patience, but there are reasons to be very excited about the future of Adam Walker.
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